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Losing Keon: The Numerical Impact

I wanted to use my stat nerd powers today for basketball purposes instead of football.  I'm going to try to take a look at what impact the loss of Keon Lawrence will have on Mizzou in the 2008-09 season. Obviously, Keon's transfer certainly won't be a good thing, though it might go further in solidifying what already seems to be excellent chemistry among the incoming freshmen.  But how much will it hurt Mike Anderson's squad?

Now, measuring basketball players with stats means we're leaving the 'defense' question off the table, aside from where we talk about blocks and steals, but as fans of Larry Hughes can attest, you can rack up the steals and still be a pretty poor defensive player.  Same with blocked shots, really.  Those defensive stats are a small part of being a good defender, especially in a system like Mike Anderson's.  So with that in mind...

What could we have expected from Keon Lawrence in 2008-09?

Here are Keon's career stats at Mizzou:

Freshman (2006-07): 23.5 MPG, 9.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 TOPG
Sophomore (2007-08): 29.0 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 TOPG

Now here are his per-minute stats--this is what we'll be using for the most part in this post:

Freshman (2006-07): 1.19 Pts Per Shot (PPS), 0.35 Shots Per Min (ShPM), 0.12 RPM, 0.08 APM, 0.05 TOPM
Sophomore (2007-08): 1.16 PPS, 0.33 ShPM, 0.12 RPM, 0.09 APM, 0.07 TOPM

Two things: 1) most of the time when I'm looking at basketball stats, I use a stat called Net Equivalent Points (NEP--one of those "all-encompassing" numbers that looks at points, efficiency, assists, rebounds, etc...more information here), and 2) thanks mostly to Ben Vollmayr-Lee, I have all the Mizzou player stats going back to the 1981-82 season

Looking at NEP/minute numbers, Keon Lawrence put up the best freshman numbers for a 'small guard' at Mizzou since 1981.  His productivity/efficiency decreased as a sophomore as he took on more responsibility (he fell to #6 among sophs), but here are the Mizzou players who put up the most similar per-minute numbers as sophomores (I used basic standard deviations for each of the main stat categories to determine this one): Clarence Gilbert, Bill Roundtree, Kendrick Moore, Jon Sundvold, Derrick Johnson.  Ironically, two of those players (Moore, Johnson) didn't stick around for their junior years, but if we averaged the junior year stats for the remaining players on that list, we come up with the following projection for Keon's junior season:

Junior (2008-09): 32.6 MPG, 14.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 2.2 TOPG

Considering where Keon's numbers were as a sophomore despite a prolonged shooting slump, these numbers seem quite conceivable.  The question is, how much of those numbers can his likely replacements duplicate?

What can we expect from his replacements?

Figuring Keon would have averaged in the neighborhood of 30 minutes per game in '08-'09 (maybe less depending on the productivity of the freshmen), I figure the following individuals will be sharing a vast majority of the minutes now on the table from Keon's departure: Miguel Paul, Marcus Denmon, JT Tiller, Kimmie English, Zaire Taylor.  I'm not putting Matt Lawrence on the list, as I don't see him logging any more minutes than he has the last two years, and that was with Keon on the roster.  So let's say these five players split the minutes evenly, 20% each.  What does that do for us?

To answer this question, we have to make some per-minute projections for each of them.

Miguel Paul

I'm not going to complicate this too much when it comes to the freshmen.  Paul is a rather unknown quantity, but as a whole, here is how people seem to be describing him: great penetrator, questionable shooter (some say he's great, others say it's his biggest weakness), solid distributor.  We've had a few point guards fit that description in recent years, but honestly the person who immediately flashes to my mind is Wesley Stokes.  I realize comparing a point guard to Wesley Stokes is something resembling slander for Mizzou fans, but Stokes really wasn't that bad.  So for simplicity's sake, let's say Paul puts up Stokes' per-minute numbers, which are as follows:

Paul (2008-09): 1.39 PPS, 0.23 ShPM, 0.10 RPM, 0.10 APM, 0.10 TOPM

Marcus Denmon

I got a little more complicated for this one.  Denmon looks like his role could end up being one of the primary backcourt shooters on next year's squad.  Well, anything over 0.35 ShPM fits that 'primary shooter' role, so here is the list of small guards (i.e. under 6'3) who have averaged more than 0.35 ShPM as freshmen for Mizzou since 1981:


Okay...under 0.30 ShPM?

Keon Lawrence (0.35 in 23.5 MPG)
Jason Sutherland (0.31 in 6.7 MPG)

Bump the requirement down to 0.24 ShPM (which really isn't a lot), and you add Kendrick Moore (again!), Melvin Booker, and Clarence Gilbert to the list.  So if we average ALL of those players' per-minute averages together, you get the following player:

Denmon (2008-09): 1.15 PPS, 0.28 ShPM, 0.11 RPM, 0.08 APM, 0.07 TOPM

JT Tiller

We'll make this one really easy.  We'll take Tiller's sophomore numbers and apply the typical sophomore-to-junior improvement numbers.

Tiller (2008-09): 1.33 PPS, 0.35 ShPM, 0.13 RPM, 0.09 APM, 0.09 TOPM

Kimmie English

Here's what we know about English so far: outstanding athlete, potentially great defender, pretty shot that hasn't fallen a lot lately (according to reports from the scrimmages and last weekend's DJ All-Star Game).  Who does that sound like?  That sounds like the freshman version of Rickey Paulding.  Will English end up as good?  We can only hope.  But Paulding was nothing but a raw athlete as a freshman, and it's not too much to ask for English to duplicate those numbers.

English (2008-09): 1.07 PPS, 0.38 ShPM, 0.14 RPM, 0.05 APM, 0.11 TOPM

Zaire Taylor

This one's easy too.  I could take Taylor's sophomore numbers at Delaware and apply the same typical soph-to-junior improvement scale that I used for Tiller.  However...Taylor's taking a large step up in competition level going from Delaware to Mizzou, and we should be rather happy to get his sophomore-at-Delaware numbers out of him.  So let's use those.

Taylor (2008-09): 1.30 PPS, 0.28 ShPM, 0.17 RPM, 0.06 APM, 0.07 TOPM


As I suggested earlier, I'm just going to pretend that these five players are going to equally split the minutes that Keon left behind.  That likely won't be the case, but there's absolutely no way to determine who would get more or less.  So that's what I'm doing.

Keon's Replacement (2008-09): 12.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.8 TOPG

That's certainly not bad for a (combined) guy playing roughly 30 minutes per game.  Keon's replacement is a less-prolific scorer and has worse A/TO numbers, but makes up for it a bit through rebounding.  Going back to Net Equivalent Points, Keon is projected to average 0.45 NEP/min, while Keon's Replacement is projected at 0.37.  There's a drop-off to be sure.  Over the course of an entire game, Keon's loss looks to cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 'equivalent' points per outing.

Defensively?  Obviously this is a huge question mark, but I really don't see too much of a dropoff in that regard.  Keon was a fine defender by all means, but he wasn't amazing.  The combination of Paul (early reports say he's an average defender), Denmon (above average), English (good), Tiller (good but foul-prone), and Taylor (good) should easily be able to replicate his abilities in that regard.

So in the end, we stand to lose a 3-pointer a game on offense and little to nothing on defense.  That doesn't seem like a lot, but...well, how many games have we lost by 6 points or less in the last two seasons?  By my quick count, we're 4-14 in games with that margin under Mike Anderson.  Losing 3 PPG is not really something we can afford at this stage, unless the incoming recruiting class breathes a LOT of new life into things.  That's always possible, but you never want to count on fresh recruits as much as we will be come November.